The following is a list of the various Cairncross Seals and Coats-of-Arms: -

1. Seal of Morgund, son of John, the last lay abbot of Brechin, (c.1230) - two stags with horns.

2. Coat-of-Arms of Karncors of Yt Ilk - a stag's head erased, a plate of an armorial shield in the Lyon Office, Edinburgh.

3. Coat-of Arms of Cairncross of Balmashanner (registered about 1672 by Patrick Cairncross) - Azure, a stag's head erased argent, attired with ten tynes or, between the attires a cross crosslet fitchie of the third, Crest - a dagger erect in pale proper. Motto - CERTAMINE PARATA (Prepared for the Contest).

4. Seal of Robert Cairncross, Bishop of Ross, (died 1545) - a Stag's head couped; above the shield a mitre.

5. Seal of John Cairncross of Colmslie (1545) - a stag's head couped, with a mullet between the attires.

6. Seal of William Cairncross of Colmslie (1545) - a stag's head couped.

7. Coat-of-Arms of Cairncross of Colmslie (registered about 1672 by Andrew Cairncross) - Argent, a stag's head erased, between the attires a cross crosslet fitchie, surmounted by a mullet, all gules. Motto - RECTE FACIENDO NEMINEM TIMEO (I fear none in doing right). No crest.

8. Seal of Alexander Cairncross, Archbishop of Glasgow 1684 - 1687 - Dexter, the well-known Arms of Glasgow ( a fish with a ring in its mouth, a tree, a bird, and a bell). Sinister, a stag's head erased, between the antlers a cross crosslet fitchie, in chief a mullet. Above the shield a demifigure of a bishop mitred, between a crosier on the dexter and a cross on the sinister, placed saltirewise. "Sigillum Alexandri Cairncroce Archiepiscopi Glasguensis." In an inner circle is inscribed "Pro Deo Rege Et Ecclesia Sacra." (For God, the King and Holy Church).


9. Book Plate of John Cairncross of the Dundee Bank (1781 - 1856) - a stag's head erased, and between the attires a cross crosslet fitchie, surmounted by a mullet. Crest - a dagger erect. Motto - RECTE FACIENDO NEMINEM TIMEO.

Fairbairn in his "Book of Coats of the Families of Great Britain and Ireland" records - "Crests - Carncross, dagger erect argent hilted and pomelled or between two branches of laurel proper." One individual who adhered to this obsolete form of the word Cairncross was Sir Joseph Carncross of the Royal Artillery, who was made Major General in 1837, Colonel-Commandant in 1839 and Lieutenant-General in 1846. He may have adopted such a crest about 1837. Fairbairn also records the following peculiarity - "Cairns (Scotland) Crest - a stag's head erased proper between the attires a cross crosslet fitched. Motto - SEMPER FIDELIS. " What place in Scotland, or what particular family of Cairns, in not given.

The Colmslie motto (RECTE FACIENDO NEMINEM TIMEO), a better one than that of Balmashanner, was also the motto of the Scotts, according to Fairbairn, who fails to say of which branch of the Scotts, however. It may have been adopted by the Cairncrosses at the instigation of Dame Grissel Scott who took as her second husband Walter Cairncross of Lugate. She was the eldest daughter of Sir Walter Scott of Buccleugh, Knight (Wicked Wat), who fought at Flodden, was retoured heir to the lands of Branxholm, and was killed by the Kers on High Street, Edinburgh. Grissel Scott's first husband was William, sixth Lord Borthwick. He succeeded his father in 1565, and was a zealous partisan of Queen Mary, receiving her and Bothwell into his castle of Borthwick in June, 1567. Walter Cairncross, probably the son of Walter Cairncross and Grissel Scott, was one of the gentlemen who rode with Bothwell to Dunbar. The Rev. Adam Milne, parish minister of Melrose 1711 - 47, in his description of the parish wrote - "On the West side of Allan Water stands Colmsly Tower, the ancient seat of the Cairncrosses, where their arms are to be seen, on the Head of the Door - a Stag's Head erased, the rest of their Bearing being defaced. These arms have been set up by Walter Cairncross."

The following information, obtained from "The Manual of Heraldry" by the Lord Lyon King of Arms, is reproduced with permission:


At the Norman Conquest the use of armorial bearings was quite unknown, and heraldry appears as a science at the beginning of the thirteenth century, although arms had undoubtedly been borne for some time previous. The evidence both of the chroniclers and artists directly disproves any science or practice being in existence at the time of the first and second Crusades.

In the thirteenth century the practice of embroidering armorial designs on the surcoat worn over a coat of mail gave rise to the expression "Coat of Arms."

It was at this time that heraldry was to be seen at its best; but by the end of the fourteenth century the true origin of arms had begun to be obscured, and ridiculous and fantastic fables were invented to account for the various charges, and to trace their adoption to the commemoration of supposed adventures and exploits of the ancestors of the owners thereof.

In Scotland, where the number of families is comparatively limited, the necessity of charging the shield with a multitude of objects has never been required.

Heraldry does not seem to have reached the Highlands of Scotland before the sixteenth century, and a system of bearing arms prevailed there which was not only crude but bore no reference to the accepted laws of armoury. Many of the arms of the various chiefs and gentlemen have quarterings which are in no way indicative of descent or alliance, the arrangement of the quarters being often varied to indicate differences between different clans, certain charges such as the lymphad or galley being common to nearly all those of the West Coast and Islands.

It having become necessary that some authority should be established to regulate the wearing of arms, to preserve a record of the persons as should be considered worthy to bear such, and to prevent the unwarrantable assumption of the same, King Richard III, by Royal Charter in 1483 incorporated the COLLEGE OF ARMS or HERALD'S COLLEGE, which exercises control over the use of armorial bearings in England. Similar functions are discharged in Scotland by the Court of the Lord Lyon, and in Ireland by the Office of Arms. No arms are of any legal authority or are of any value unless they are recorded in one of these offices.


Petitions to the Lord Lyon for a grant of arms by a novus homo, for matriculation by a cadet of a family whose arms are already recorded or for registration of arms borne by one's ancestors before the year 1672, in terms of the statute of that year, may be signed by the petitioner or his council or agent.

With his petition the applicant will produce the evidence on which he relies to support his pedigree and claim, and whether the application is opposed or not, he must prove his case. Lyon then issues his judgement or interlocutor authorising the Lyon clerk to (1), prepare Letters Patent in favour of the petitioner, granting him the Ensigns Armorial therein mentioned; or (2), in the case of a cadet, to matriculate the Ancestor's arms of new with the proper difference in the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland. These arms can only be borne by the grantee anid his eldest son or heir male in perpetuity; all younger sons must by the statutes above-mentioned matriculate of new with their proper differences in contradistinction to the English practice where cadets add their marks of cadency at their own hand.

The improper and illegal assumption of arms was prohibited in England from at least the reign of King Henry V by a proclamation of that monarch, but the English Court of Chivalry, which had jurisdiction in questions of armorial assumption, being practically in abeyance, it has been doubted how far the Courts of Chancery or Common Law have jurisdiction to prevent the wrongful use of arms. In Scotland it is expressly made a statutory offence by the Act of Parliament of 1592, punishable by fine and in certain cases by imprisonment and the confiscation to the Exchequer of all articles on which the arms may have been placed. This Act has been re-enacted from time to time, and during the eighteenth century numerous prosecutions took place.

All members of the same family claim the same bearings in their coat-of -arms; and to distinguish the principal bearer from his descendants or relatives, it was necessary to have some sign, so that the degree of consanguinity might be known. These signs are called DIFFERENCES.

The differences used by heralds in England, and to a certain extent in Scotland, at the present time, are nine in number. They not only distinguish the sons of one family, but also denote the subordinate degrees in each house. They are: - The Heir, or first son, the LABEL; second son, the Crescent; third son, the MULLET; fourth son, the MARTLET; fifth son, the ANNULET; sixth son, the FLEUR-DE-LYS; seventh son, the ROSE; eighth son, the CROSS MOLINE; ninth son, the DOUBLE QUATREFOIL.


In Scotland, by statute, all younger sons and cadets being obliged to re-register the family arms, with their proper differences, the usual manner of so doing is by bordure, a border around the edge of the shield, which is again further differenced among the younger sons of younger sons by being engrailed, invected, indented, embattled, and so forth.

The compulsory matriculation of arms by cadets ensures that the heraldry of the family is maintained on a proper basis, and not, as in England, left to the will of the Individuals themselves; and also indicates their position in the family for many more generations than is possible by using single charges.

Sisters have no differences in their coats of arms. They are permitted to bear the arms of their father, as the eldest son does after his father's decease. Ladies, with the exception of the sovereign, have no crest.

In heraldry, the husband and wife, when they are descended from distinct families, have both their arms placed in the same escutcheon, divided by a perpendicular line through the centre of the shield.

Note: The MANUAL OF HERALDRY, from which the information contained in pages 154 - 156 was obtained, was edited by the late Sir Francis James Grant, K.C.V.O., LL.D., W.S., formerly Lord Lyon King of Arms.

For South African Family interest in the Coat-of-Arms, refer p.136.

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